The Internet is a constantly evolving ecosystem that is modified for reasons that make it faster, more accurate and more efficient. Of course as the Internet evolves so will all of its core elements including one of its most important, search.
How Search Works
Search has long used a simple but effective way to track and determine popularity of a page. The system is called Links and they have been the major search ranking factor. The system in essence works to allow websites to Link or cast votes for certain pages and depending upon the weight of the vote cast, those pages would increase in popularity and move up search rankings.
Google in its very early days, created this approach and since they became the Internet’s default search engine, everyone in the industry has adopted their thinking and SEO strategies toward it.
Utilizing Links of course has led to the growth in an industry of those who are experts at working with Links effectively and in manipulative SEO strategies sometimes called “Black Hat” SEO. Google then implemented updates and manual penalties aimed at outsmarting manipulators which has created a battle between those trying to outsmart Google’s algorithms and Google who is trying to make search positioning fair. There have been consistent updates followed by new schemes to foil those updates over the past decade with each side not having an upper hand for any long period.
The big and influential publishers in the meantime have been subjected to these wars and have had to both modify their legitimate SEO approaches constantly for fear of being thought of as a manipulator and to become quite passive and even meek in the use of Links. For example, some of the biggest sites like Wikipedia, Entrepreneur and Forbes will only do nofollow outgoing links. In other words, they would rather not run the risk of a link being an endorsement of a page that Google deems is manipulating the system. The downside is that the biggest and most influential website are not placing their heavyweight votes and as a result, searches are certainly being skewed. Additionally, their input is really at the core of the system working properly, so it is fair to question whether things are working properly and at their best.
The Internet is Changing Substantially
Google relies heavily on the PageRank algorithm which works by counting the number and quality of links to a page to determine a rough estimate of how important the website is. The underlying postulation of PageRank is that more important websites are likely to receive more links from other websites. PageRank’s vision of the web is that it is a grid of pages connected by hyperlinks. Although the visual of things is graphic and compelling and does define a basic set of parameters that are occurring, it is also a very limited view of the importance of the relationships on the web. The web today and its data relationships are much more dynamic and difficult to graph out in a binary way as PageRank does currently. The web has become a bionetwork, with many levels of relationships that can be expressed in nearly as many was as there are relationships. With this being the case, it seems like there is a need for a different way of both assessing and weighing relationships so that this data can be used to more accurately to reflect what is popular on the web and how that shows up in a search engine like Google.
Linkless Mentions – A New Alternative to Common Links
Because of the changes to the Internet and how information placed there is related, there is a new and better alternative to utilizing Links called unlinked brand mentions that search engines are already currently tracking. This linkless approach may be both more relevant and easier to defend against bad actors.
We will discuss here how search engines are already utilizing this metric and also for ranking and how you can track and amplify these mentions to boost your Search Engine Result Pages, (SERP) presence utilizing Awario, a high-end web monitoring tool.
We Know That Search Engines Currently Utilize Linkless Mentions in Their Ranking Algorithms. In fact the big search engines have gone on record telling us as much. Here are some quotes from the major search engines:
What does Google say?
In their words:
In his keynote at Brighton SEO in 2017, Google Webmaster Trends Analyst said this:
“If you publish high-quality content that is highly cited on the internet — and I’m not talking about just links, but also mentions on social networks and people talking about your branding, crap like that. Then you are doing great.”
The previous quote is a direct reference to linkless mentions.
Additionally Google has patents that have said it. Their Panda patent refers to mentions, aka “implied links,” as a signal that could be equal in weight to the good old backlinks:
“The system determines a count of independent links for the group (step 302). […] Links for the group can include express links, implied links, or both. […] An implied link is a reference to a target resource, e.g., a citation to the target resource, which is included in a source resource but is not an express link to the target resource. Thus, a resource in the group can be the target of an implied link without a user being able to navigate to the resource by following the implied link.”
Google Search Quality Guidelines:
Search Quality Guidelines is a document used by Google’s quality evaluators who rate web pages in SERPs; based on the ratings, Google develops changes to their ranking algorithm. From these guidelines, we know that reputation (aka the public opinion about a brand) matters for rankings.
The guidelines state the following information to utilize to determine rankings: “For Page Quality rating, you must also look for outside, independent reputation information about the website. When the website says one thing about itself, but reputable external sources disagree with what the website says, trust the external sources.”
This points directly to the weight that linkless mentions have on search rankings.
What does Bing say?
Former Bing senior product manager Duane Forrester stated in 2016 that unlinked mentions can be as strong a signal as backlinks. This confirms that the ability for search engines to identify mentions and use them to determine site authority. Here it is in his own words:
“Years ago, Bing figured out context and sentiment of tone, and how to associate mentions without a link. As the volume grows and trustworthiness of this mention is known, you’ll get a bump in rankings as a trial.”
As importantly, linkless mentions play a key role in Google’s algorithm currently because it assists the company in determining the good from the bad actors.
Because bad reviews also generate buzz, a deficiency in the system recently allowed many bad actors to have their search rankings rise. Although they are vague about how it works exactly, Google responded with an algorithmic solution that likely relies on linkless mentions to provide support for to down-rank merchants that provide poor user experience.
How Does Knowing This Affect Your Current approach to SEO?
Because linkless mentions are important, they are another metric you need to be tracking and optimizing to ensure your SEO is as effective as possible. The good news for all of us is that mentions are much easier to get than dofollow links and will likely pay off equally well. The smart approach if you already have a link-building strategy that’s working for you, you can continue using it to win mentions and stop stressing about publishers nofollowing your links (or not linking to you at all).
With this in mind. Your 2018 SEO strategy needs to include this important addition to help you understand and optimize your linkless mentions.
Put a Primary Focus on the Growth of Your Mentions
Remember, that your strategy for recognition by search engines is not limited to traditional link building alone. You need to do those things that will increase your unlinked brand mentions. Try these tactics:
Reviews: Encourage and track customer reviews for your brand, and make sure to respond to the negative ones.
Social selling: Talk about your business on social media and build a conversation for the greatest impact.
Social customer care:Never neglect customers who complain on social media. Take care of them because happy customers are likely to keep spreading the word about your brand, which can help SEO.
Competitor monitoring: Follow your competitors to see if their awareness is growing and why. Mimic the behavior of the ones who are growing.
Influencer marketing: Awario can help you understand your target market better and to find those who are influencers for your customers. You can easily track mentions of industry keywords.
Integrating Unlinked Brand Mentions into daily SEO routines
Reading about unlinked mentions might be new for you. Our experience shows that Google’s statements about it are true and confirmed by practical experience.
So the question is how to integrate this new knowledge into practice?
As common backlinks are not dead (not at all!) we suggest to continue focusing mainly on links (today is October 18th, 2018). Your traditional SEO strategies with proven results should be continued.
In addition to that, unlinked Brand Mentions can be built in the above mentioned channels. As for backlinks, high quality, highly relevant articles on strong, highly relevant blogs and news sites with great search metrics are the must-haves for unlinked mentions as well.
In our platform you can choose every one of around 20.000 sites to book backlinks as well as unlinked Brand Mentions. For the second, simply choose “mention only” in number of links.
For all related questions to this article, SEO or other marketing strategies, feel free to contact our well-trained, friendly stuff for a free consulting session.